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had done much damage there, and some tumults had taken place among
the citizens, the seat of judgment had by general consent been
placed in the AEmilian household as the place of chief security, and
as he was the accredited magistrate with their Gothic masters, as
Sidonius had been before his banishment.

As Sidonius looked at the grave face of the Senator, set like a
rock, but deadly pale, he thought it was no unworthy representative
of Brutus or Manlius of old who sat on that seat.

Alas! would he not be bound by his fatal oath to be only too true a
representative of their relentless justice?

On one side of the judgment-seat stood Verronax, towering above all
around; behind him Marina and Columba, clinging together, trembling
and tearful, but their weeping restrained by the looks of the
Senator, and by a certain remnant of hope.

To the other side advanced the Goths, all much larger and taller men
than any one except the young Gaulish chieftain. The foremost was a
rugged-looking veteran, with grizzled locks and beard, and a
sunburnt face. This was Meinhard, the head of the garrison on
Deodatus's farm, a man well known to AEmilius, and able to speak
Latin enough to hold communication with the Romans. Several younger
men pressed rudely behind him, but they were evidently impressed by
the dignity of the tribunal, though it was with a loud and fierce
shout that they recognised Verronax standing so still and unmoved.

"Silence!" exclaimed the Senator, lifting his ivory staff.

Meinhard likewise made gestures to hush them, and they ceased, while
the Senator, greeting Meinhard and inviting him to share his seat of
authority, demanded what they asked.

"Right!" was their cry. "Right on the slayer of Odorik, the son of
Odo, of the lineage of Odin, our guest, and of the King's trust."

"Right shall ye have, O Goths," returned AEmilius. "A Roman never
flinches from justice. Who are witnesses to the deed? Didst thou
behold it, O Meinhard, son of Thorulf?"

"No, noble AEmilius. It had not been wrought had I been present;
but here are those who can avouch it. Stand forth, Egilulf, son of

"It needs not," said Verronax. "I acknowledge the deed. The Goth
scoffed at us for invoking a created Man. I could not stand by to
hear my Master insulted, and I smote him, but in open fight, whereof
I bear the token."

"That is true," said Meinhard. "I know that Verronax, the
Arvernian, would strike no coward blow. Therefore did I withhold
these comrades of Odorik from rushing on thee in their fury; but
none the less art thou in feud with Odo, the father of Odorik, who
will require of thee either thy blood or the wehrgeld."

"Wehrgeld I have none to pay," returned Verronax, in the same calm

"I have sworn!" said AEmilius in a clear low voice, steady but full
of suppressed anguish. A shriek was heard among the women, and
Sidonius stepped forth and demanded the amount of wehrgeld.

"That must be for King Euric to decide," returned Meinhard. "He
will fix the amount, and it will be for Odo to choose whether he
will accept it. The mulct will be high, for the youth was of high
Baltic blood, and had but lately arrived with his father from the

"Enough," said Verronax. "Listen, Meinhard. Thou knowest me, and
the Arvernian faith. Leave me this night to make my peace with
Heaven and my parting with man. At the hour of six to-morrow
morning, I swear that I will surrender myself into thine hands to be
dealt with as it may please the father of this young man."

"So let it be, Meinhard," said AEmilius, in a stifled voice.

"I know AEmilius, and I know Verronax," returned the Goth.

They grasped hands, and then Meinhard drew off his followers,
leaving two, at the request of Marcus, to act as sentinels at the

The Senator sat with his hands clasped over his face in unutterable
grief, Columba threw herself into the arms of her betrothed, Marina
tore her hair, and shrieked out -

"I will not hold my peace! It is cruel! It is wicked! It is

"Silence, Marina," said Verronax. "It is just! I am no ignorant
child. I knew the penalty when I incurred it! My Columba,
remember, though it was a hasty blow, it was in defence of our
Master's Name."

The thought might comfort her by and by; as yet it could not.

The Senator rose and took his hand.

"Thou dost forgive me, my son?" he said.

"I should find it hard to forgive one who lessened my respect for
the AEmilian constancy," returned Verronax.

Then he led Marcus aside to make arrangements with him respecting
his small mountain estate and the remnant of his tribe, since Marina
was his nearest relative, and her little son would, if he were cut
off, be the sole heir to the ancestral glories of Vercingetorix.

"And I cannot stir to save such a youth as that!" cried the Senator
in a tone of agony as he wrung the hand of Sidonius. "I have bound
mine own hands, when I would sell all I have to save him. O my
friend and father, well mightest thou blame my rashness, and doubt
the justice that could be stern where the heart was not touched."

"But I am not bound by thine oath, my friend," said Sidonius. "True
it is that the Master would not be served by the temporal sword, yet
such zeal as that of this youth merits that we should strive to
deliver him. Utmost justice would here be utmost wrong. May I send
one of your slaves as a messenger to my son to see what he can
raise? Though I fear me gold and silver is more scarce than it was
in our younger days."

This was done, and young Lucius also took a summons from the Bishop
to the deacons of the Church in the town, authorising the use of the
sacred vessels to raise the ransom, but almost all of these had been
already parted with in the time of a terrible famine which had
ravaged Arvernia a few years previously, and had denuded all the
wealthy and charitable families of their plate and jewels. Indeed
Verronax shrank from the treasure of the Church being thus applied.
Columba might indeed weep for him exultingly as a martyr, but, as he
well knew, martyrs do not begin as murderers, and passion,
pugnacity, and national hatred had been uppermost with him. It was
the hap of war, and he was ready to take it patiently, and prepare
himself for death as a brave Christian man, but not a hero or a
martyr; and there was little hope either that a ransom so
considerable as the rank of the parties would require could be
raised without the aid of the AEmilii, or that, even if it were, the
fierce old father would accept it. The more civilised Goths, whose
families had ranged Italy, Spain, and Aquitaine for two or three
generations, made murder the matter of bargain that had shocked
AEmilius; but this was an old man from the mountain cradle of the
race, unsophisticated, and but lately converted.

In the dawn of the summer morning Bishop Sidonius celebrated the
Holy Eucharist for the mournful family in the oratory, a vaulted
chamber underground, which had served the same purpose in the days
of persecution, and had the ashes of two tortured martyrs of the
AEmilian household, mistress and slave, enshrined together beneath
the altar, which had since been richly inlaid with coloured marble.

Afterwards a morning meal was served for Verronax and for the elder
AEmilius, who intended to accompany him on his sad journey to
Bordigala, where the King and the father of Odorik were known to be
at the time. Sidonius, who knew himself to have some interest with
Euric, would fain have gone with them, but his broken health
rendered a rapid journey impossible, and he hoped to serve the
friends better by remaining to console the two women, and to
endeavour to collect the wehrgeld in case it should be accepted.

The farewells, owing to the Roman dignity of AEmilius and the proud
self-respect of the Arvernian, were more calm than had been feared.
Even thus, thought Sidonius, must Vercingetorix have looked when he
mounted his horse and rode from his lines at Alesia to save his
people, by swelling Caesar's triumph and dying beneath the Capitol.
Oh, ABSIT OMEN! Columba was borne up by hopes which Verronax would
not dash to the ground, and she received his embrace with steadfast,
though brimming eyes, and an assurance that she would pray without

Lucius was not to be found, having no doubt gone forward, intending
to direct his friend on his journey, and there part with him; but
the saddest part of the whole was the passionate wailings and
bemoanings of the remnants of his clan. One of his attendants had
carried the tidings; wild Keltic men and women had come down for one
last sight of their Fearnagh MacFearccadorigh, as they called him by
his true Gaulish name - passionately kissing his hands and the hem of
his mantle, beating their breasts amid howls of lamentation, and
throwing themselves in his path, as, with the high spirit which
could not brook to be fetched as a criminal, he made his way to the

Mounted on two strong mules, the only animals serviceable in the
mountain paths, the Senator and Verronax passed the gate, Marcus
walking beside them.

"We are beforehand with the Goth," said Verronax, as he came out.

"Lazy hounds!" said Marcus. "Their sentinels have vanished. It
would serve them right if thou didst speed over the border to the

"I shall have a laugh at old Meinhard," said Verronax. "Little he
knows of discipline."

"No doubt they have had a great lyke wake, as they barbarously call
their obsequies," said the Senator, "and are sleeping off their

"We will rouse them," said the Arvernian; "it will be better than
startling poor Columba."

So on they moved, the wildly-clad, barefooted Gauls, with locks
streaming in the wind, still keeping in the rear. They reached the
long, low farm-buildings belonging to Deodatus, a half-bred Roman
Gaul, with a large vineyard and numerous herds of cattle. The place
was wonderfully quiet. The Goths seemed to be indulging in very
sound slumbers after their carouse, for nothing was to be seen but
the slaves coming in with bowls of milk from the cattle. Some of
them must have given notice of the approach of the Senator, for
Deodatus came to his door with the salutation, "AVE CLARISSIME!" and
then stood staring at Verronax, apparently petrified with wonder;
and as the young chief demanded where was Meinhard, he broke forth -

"Does his nobility ask me? It is two hours since every Goth quitted
the place, except the dead man in the house of the widow Dubhina,
and we are breathing freely for once in our lives. Up they went
towards the AEmilian villa with clamour and threats enough to make
one's blood run cold, and they must be far on their way to Bordigala
Gergovia by this time."

"His nobility must have passed through their midst unseen and
unheard!" cried old Julitta, a hardworking, dried-up woman, clasping
her sinewy, wrinkled hands; "a miracle, and no wonder, since our
holy Bishop has returned."

The excitable household was on the point of breaking out into
acclamation, but Verronax exclaimed: "Silence, children! Miracles
are not for the bloodguilty. If it be, as I fear, they have met
Lucius and seized him in my stead, we must push on at once to save

"Meinhard could not mistake your persons," returned AEmilius; but
while he was speaking, a messenger came up and put into his hand one
of the waxen tablets on which notes were written -

L. AEM. VIC. TO M. AEM. VIC. S. Q., - Pardon and bless thy son.
Meinhard assures me that I shall be accepted as equal in birth and
accessory to the deed. Remember Columba and the value of Verronax's
life, and let me save him. Consent and hold him back. Greet all
the dear ones. - VALE.

The little tablet could hold no more than this - almost every word
curtailed. The Senator's firm lip quivered at last as he exclaimed,
"My brave son. Thus does he redeem his father's rash oath!"

Verronax, whose Roman breeding had held his impulsive Keltic nature
in check as long as it was only himself that was in danger, now
broke into loud weeping -

"My Lucius! my brother beloved! and didst thou deem Arvernian honour
fallen so low that I could brook such a sacrifice? Let us hasten on
instantly, my father, while yet it is time!"

It would have been impossible to withhold him, and Marcus returned
with the strange tidings, while his father and Verronax set forth
with a few servants, mounted like themselves on mules, to reach the
broad Roman road that led from Gergovia to Bordigala. Three wild,
barefooted Gauls of Verronax's clan shook their heads at all his
attempts to send them home, and went running along after him with
the same fidelity as poor Celer, whom he had left tied up at the
villa as his parting gift to little Victorinus, but who had broken
loose, and came bounding to his master, caressing him with nose and
tongue at their first halt.

There had been, as in all Roman roads, regular posting stations at
intervals along the way, where horses and mules could be hired, but
the troubles of the Empire, invasion, and scarcity had greatly
disturbed the system. Many of the stations were deserted, and at
others either the whole of the animals, or all the fleeter ones, had
been taken up by Meinhard and his convoy. Indeed it almost seemed
that not only Lucius was anxious not to be overtaken, but that
Meinhard was forwarding his endeavours to consummate his sacrifice
before the Arvernian could prevent it.

Hotly did Verronax chafe at each hindrance. He would have dashed
onwards with feverish head-long speed, using his own fleet limbs
when he could not obtain a horse, but AEmilius feared to trust him
alone, lest, coming too late to rescue Lucius, he should bring on
himself the fury of the Goths, strike perhaps in revenge, and not
only lose his own life and render the sacrifice vain, but imperil
many more.

So, while making all possible speed, he bound the young Arvernian,
by all the ties of paternal guardianship and authority, to give his
word not to use his lighter weight and youthful vigour to outstrip
the rest of the party.

The Senator himself hardly knew what was his own wish, for if his
fatherly affection yearned over his gentle, dutiful, studious
Lucius, yet Columba's desolation, and the importance of Verronax as
a protector for his family, so weighed down the other scale, that he
could only take refuge in 'committing his way unto the Lord.'

The last halting-place was at a villa belonging to a Roman, where
they heard that an assembly was being held in the fields near
Bordigala for judgment on the slaughter of a young Goth of high
rank. On learning how deeply they were concerned, their host lent
them two horses, and rode with them himself, as they hastened on in
speechless anxiety.

These early Teutonic nations all had their solemn assemblies in the
open air, and the Goths had not yet abandoned the custom, so that as
the Senator and the chieftain turned the summit of the last low hill
they could see the plain beneath swarming like an ant-hill with
people, and as they pressed onward they could see a glittering tent,
woven with cloth of gold, a throne erected in front, and around it a
space cleared and guarded by a huge circle of warriors (LITES),
whose shields joined so as to form a wall.

Near the throne stood the men of higher degree, all alike to join
the King in his judgment, like the Homeric warriors of old, as
indeed Sidonius had often said that there was no better comment on
the ILIAD than the meetings of the barbarians.

By the time AEmilius and Verronax had reached the spot, and gained
an entrance in virtue of their rank and concern in the matter, Euric
sat enthroned in the midst of the assembly. He was far removed from
being a savage, though he had won his crown by the murder of his
brother. He and the counts (comrades) around him wore the Roman
garb, and used by preference the Latin speech, learning, arms, and
habits, just as European civilisation is adopted by the Egyptian or
Japanese of the present day. He understood Roman jurisprudence, and
was the author of a code for the Goths, but in a case like this he
was obliged to conform to national customs.

There he sat, a small, light-complexioned man, of slighter make than
those around him, holding in his hand a scroll. It was a letter
from Sidonius, sent beforehand by a swift-footed mountaineer, and
containing a guarantee for 1200 soldi, twice the price for a Goth of
ordinary rank. On the one side stood, unbound and unguarded, the
slender form of Lucius; on the other a gigantic old Visigoth, blind,
and with long streaming snowy hair and beard, his face stern with
grief and passion, and both his knotted hands crossed upon the
handle of a mighty battle-axe.

The King had evidently been explaining to him the terms of the
Bishop's letter, for the first words that met the ear of AEmilius
were -

"Nay, I say nay, King Euric. Were I to receive treble the weight of
gold, how should that enable me to face my son in the halls of Odin,
with his blood unavenged?"

There was a murmur, and the King exclaimed -

"Now, now, Odo, we know no more of Odin."

"Odin knows us no more," retorted the old man, "since we have washed
ourselves in the Name of another than the mighty Thor, and taken up
the weakly worship of the conquered. So my son would have it! He
talked of a new Valhal of the Christian; but let him meet me where
he will, he shall not reproach me that he only of all his brethren
died unavenged. Where is the slayer? Set him before me that I may
strike him dead with one blow!"

Lucius crossed himself, looked upwards, and was stepping forwards,
when Verronax with a shout of 'Hold!' leapt into the midst, full
before the avenger's uplifted weapon, crying -

"Slay me, old man! It was I who killed thy son, I, Fearnagh the

"Ho!" said Odo. "Give me thine hand. Let me feel thee. Yea, these
be sinews! It is well. I marvelled how my Odorik should have
fallen by the soft Roman hand of yonder stripling; but thou art a
worthy foe. What made the priestling thrust himself between me and
my prey?"

"His generous love," returned Verronax, as Lucius flung himself on
his neck, crying -

"O my Verronax, why hast thou come? The bitterness of death was
past! The gates were opening."

Meanwhile AEmilius had reached Euric, and had made him understand
the substitution. Old Odo knew no Latin, and it was the King, an
able orator in both tongues, who expounded all in Gothic, showing
how Lucius AEmilius had offered his life in the stead of his friend,
and how Verronax had hurried to prevent the sacrifice, reiterating,
almost in a tone of command, the alternative of the wehrgeld.

The lites all burst into acclamations at the nobility of the two
young men, and some muttered that they had not thought these Romans
had so much spirit.

Euric made no decision. He did full justice to the courage and
friendship of the youths, and likewise to the fact that Odorik had
provoked the quarrel, and had been slain in fair fight; but the
choice lay with the father, and perhaps in his heart the politic
Visigoth could not regret that Arvernia should lose a champion sure
to stand up for Roman or national claims.

Odo listened in silence, leaning on his axe. Then he turned his
face to the bystanders, and demanded of them -

"Which of them is the bolder? Which of them flinched at my axe?"

The spectators were unanimous that neither had blenched. The
slender lad had presented himself as resolutely as the stately

"It is well," said Odo. "Either way my son will be worthily
avenged. I leave the choice to you, young men."

A brief debate ended in an appeal to the Senator, who, in spite of
all his fortitude, could not restrain himself from groaning aloud,
hiding his face in his hands, and hoarsely saying, "Draw lots."

"Yes," said Euric; "commit the judgment to Heaven."

It was hailed as a relief; but Lucius stipulated that the lots
should be blessed by a Catholic priest, and Verronax muttered
impatiently -

"What matters it? Let us make an end as quickly as may be!"

He had scarcely spoken when shouts were heard, the throng made way,
the circle of lites opened, as, waving an olive branch, a wearied,
exhausted rider and horse appeared, and staggering to the foot of
the throne, there went down entirely spent, the words being just
audible, "He lives! Odorik lives!"

It was Marcus AEmilius, covered with dust, and at first unable to
utter another word, as he sat on the ground, supported by his
brother, while his father made haste to administer the wine handed
to him by an attendant.

"Am I in time?" he asked.

"In time, my son," replied his father, repeating his announcement in
Gothic. "Odorik lives!"

"He lives, he will live," repeated Marcus, reviving. "I came not
away till his life was secure."

"Is it truth?" demanded the old Goth. "Romans have slippery ways."

Meinhard was quick to bear testimony that no man in Arvernia doubted
the word of an AEmilius; but Marcus, taking a small dagger from his
belt, held it out, saying -

"His son said that he would know this token."

Odo felt it. "It is my son's knife," he said, still cautiously;
"but it cannot speak to say how it was taken from him."

"The old barbarian heathen," quoth Verronax, under his breath; "he
would rather lose his son than his vengeance."

Marcus had gathered breath and memory to add, "Tell him Odorik said
he would know the token of the red-breast that nested in the winged
helm of Helgund."

"I own the token," said Odo. "My son lives. He needs no
vengeance." He turned the handle of his axe downwards, passed it to
his left hand, and stretched the right to Verronax, saying, "Young
man, thou art brave. There is no blood feud between us. Odo, son
of Helgund, would swear friendship with you, though ye be Romans."

"Compensation is still due according to the amount of the injury,"
said the Senator scrupulously. "Is it not so, O King?"

Euric assented, but Odo exclaimed -

"No gold for me! When Odo, son of Helgund, forgives, he forgives
outright. Where is my son?"

Food had by this time been brought by the King's order, and after
swallowing a few mouthfuls Marcus could stand and speak.

Odorik, apparently dead, had been dragged by the Goths into the hut
of the widow Dubhina to await his father's decision as to the
burial, and the poor woman had been sheltered by her neighbour,
Julitta, leaving the hovel deserted.

Columba, not allowing her grief and suspense to interfere with her
visits of mercy to the poor woman, had come down as usual on the
evening of the day on which her father and her betrothed had started
on their sad journey. Groans, not likely to be emitted by her
regular patient, had startled her, and she had found the floor
occupied by the huge figure of a young Goth, his face and hair
covered with blood from a deep wound on his head, insensible, but
his moans and the motion of his limbs betraying life.

Knowing the bitter hatred in Claudiodunum for everything Gothic, the
brave girl would not seek for aid nearer than the villa. Thither
she despatched her male slave, while with her old nurse she did all
in her power for the relief of the wounded man, with no
inconsiderable skill. Marcus had brought the Greek physician of the
place, but he had done nothing but declare the patient a dead man by
all the laws of Galen and Hippocrates. However, the skull and
constitution of a vigorous young Goth, fresh from the mountains,
were tougher than could be imagined by a member of one of the
exhausted races of the Levant. Bishop Sidonius had brought his
science and sagacity to the rescue, and under his treatment Odorik
had been restored to his senses, and was on the fair way to

On the first gleam of hope, Marcus had sent off a messenger, but so
many of his household and dependents were absent that he had no
great choice; so that as soon as hope had become security, he had
set forth himself; and it was well he had done so, for he had
overtaken the messenger at what was reckoned as three days' journey
from Bordigala. He had ridden ever since without rest, only
dismounting to change his steed, scarcely snatching even then a
morsel of food, and that morning neither he nor the horse he rode
had relaxed for a moment the desperate speed with which he rode
against time; so that he had no cause for the shame and vexation
that he felt at his utter collapse before the barbarians. King
Euric himself declared that he wished he had a Goth who could

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeMore Bywords → online text (page 2 of 14)